Nagaland paddy farmers worry over drought-like conditions

Paddy is grown mostly for self-consumption in Nagaland. A drought-like situation due to deficit rainfall has affected cultivation

By Gurvinder Singh
Published: Monday 01 November 2021

The production of paddy in Nagaland, mostly grown for self-consumption, has been severely affected due to persistent drought-like conditions in the hilly state. This has caused distress among farmers and their families. 

The rainfall patterns in the region have considerably changed, and the state is drying up. It has been experiencing a drought-like situation due to deficit rainfall this year.

Most households don’t have any mechanism to store water and depend on rivers and rivulets for water supply to their fields.

“But the water bodies have gone dry. The sowing of paddy starts in June. It is harvested in November. But most farmers couldn’t sow because of the shortage of rainfall,” said Seyie Kuotsu (35), a paddy farmer. 

“I have been growing paddy for the past several years but have never witnessed a situation like this before,” said Kedilezo Mkebitsu (70), who grows paddy in his two-acre land at Zhadmia village in Kohima district.

Mkebitsu harvests around 1,000 kilograms of paddy every year for self-consumption, as the production is not enough for sale in the market. “But this year, it is difficult to harvest even half the regular produce.”

Kuotsu voiced similar concerns: “We depend heavily on paddy. The rain-fed crop is grown just once a year and lasts for several months.”

The duo claimed that around 800 families involved in farming in Zhadima alone have been facing a tough time.

The entire state, in fact, has been reeling under severe drought-like conditions this year. As many as 66,222 households spread across 12 districts of the state have been affected, according to the Nagaland agriculture department.

The total area of land affected is around 49,448.85 hectares. Dimapur district is the worst affected: 9,408 households and 14,995 hectares of land have been hit hard.

Pulses, vegetables, oilseeds and pumpkin have also faced the brunt of the water crisis, said farmers.

 The farmers in the hilly state also faced a huge infestation of fall armyworm (FAW) early this year that affected around 3048.45 hectares of maize crop covering 334 villages.

Jhum farmers suffer

The crisis has also affected Jhum farming (shifting cultivation) in the state. Land is cleared by burning the vegetation, is cultivated for several years, and then abandoned in favour of another site when the productivity of soil declines.

“The shortage of rainfall has also impacted the quality of paddy. The king chilli got damaged due to the drought. We have not received any compensation from the government,” Kenei Welie (42), a farmer in Kohima district, said.  

The total area of Nagaland is 16,579 square kilometers, out of which 947 sq km are under jhum cultivation.

The delayed rains have hit about 915 villages, which include 686.62 sq km of jhum fields and 5.25 sq km of horticultural crops, according to the state agriculture department.

Apart from jhum, terraced rice farming (upland) and wet terraced rice cultivation have also been affected. The state produced 551,000 tonnes of rice in 2020; it is expected to be around 166,000 tonnes this year.

Senior government officials conceded that the state is inching towards an agrarian crisis and urged the central government to look into the matter.

“We are facing the twin problems of water shortage and climate change. We are yet to assess the total monetary loss to agriculture as the harvesting will continue till December. We believe that our traditional way of cultivation is not economically viable and ecologically sustainable anymore,” said Y Kikheto Sema, agriculture production officer, Nagaland.

“The topography of our state is different from that of other states. We are suffering from a severe water crisis, but the question of doubling farm produce has not come up. The Union government should focus more on the construction of check dams and reservoirs. It should rejuvenate water bodies,” he added. 

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